With only 9 contenders left, here’s how Michigan, others fit into College Football Playoff hierarchy

4 unbeatens, 5 one-loss teams still in playoff mix

Ronnie Bell #8 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a first-half touchdown while playing the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Michigan Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus, 2022 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The number of teams still fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff has reached single digits, and undefeated Michigan is in that mix.

All four unbeatens stayed perfect Saturday, but three playoff contenders saw their championship hopes die: Oregon, Ole Miss, and UCLA.

That leaves us with the following teams fighting for four spots:

  • ACC: Clemson, North Carolina
  • Big 12: TCU
  • Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State
  • Pac-12: USC
  • SEC: Georgia, LSU, Tennessee

Only two weeks remain in the regular season, with conference championships to follow. Here’s the updated hierarchy list.

How this works

NOTE: If you’ve read the breakdowns from the last three weeks (available here and here and here), you can skip this section. It’s just a refresher on how this works for the newcomers.

Here’s how you read this list: Start from the top item and work your way down. If a team finishes the season with one of the listed outcomes, then that team will earn the top unclaimed playoff spot. If no team meets the specific qualification for that outcome, skip it and move to the next.

Continue in that manner until you’ve filled all four spots.

For example: No. 1 in this hierarchy is “undefeated SEC champion.” In other words, if any team finishes this season as an undefeated SEC champ, that team will occupy the No. 1 spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings.

The No. 2 item on this list is “undefeated Big Ten champion.” If there’s an undefeated Big Ten champ at the end of the year, that team will be the No. 2 overall seed IF there is also an undefeated SEC champ. If there isn’t an undefeated SEC champ, then that undefeated Big Ten team assumes the No. 1 overall spot.

If there isn’t a 13-0 Big Ten team, then you move onto item No. 3 on the list, and so on.

The top four outcomes on the list that actually happen will determine the four teams that make the playoff.

So if “11-1 Michigan” is 14th on the list, in order to make the playoff, it would need three or fewer of the top 13 possible outcomes to actually happen.

1. Undefeated SEC champion

Possible teams: Georgia

As long as Georgia keeps winning, this will stay the same. Nobody is passing the Bulldogs if they go 13-0 and win an SEC title.

2. Undefeated Big Ten champion

Possible teams: Michigan, Ohio State

We’re one week away from a possible undefeated battle between Michigan and Ohio State. If one of those teams goes 13-0, it will earn a top two seed in the playoff, guaranteed.

3. One-loss SEC champion

Possible teams: Georgia

What world would we be living in if Georgia lost to either Kentucky or Georgia Tech over the next two weeks?

Nonetheless, if Georgia somehow lost to one of those teams and bounced back to win the SEC title, it would be just fine at either No. 1 or No. 2 in the final playoff rankings.

4. One-loss Big Ten champion

Possible teams: Michigan, Ohio State

If Michigan loses to Illinois or Ohio State loses at Maryland, both teams would still control their own destinies for the playoff.

There would certainly be a debate between a 12-1 Big Ten champ and a theoretical 13-0 TCU, but due to the lack of a second contender in the Big 12, the nod would likely go to Michigan or Ohio State.

5. Undefeated Big 12 champion

Possible teams: TCU

It didn’t make much sense that TCU went into the game against three-loss Texas as an underdog, and it wasn’t at all surprising to see the Horned Frogs come away with a win.

If TCU wins the next three games, I think it’ll be the No. 3 seed in the playoff. A loss would make the situation much more interesting and uncomfortable.

6. One-loss loser of SEC title game

Possible teams: Georgia

A loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game would set up the debate of all debates about whether LSU should get into the playoff. But there wouldn’t be much question about 12-1 Georgia -- a virtual lock.

7. Tennessee finishes 11-1

Last week, I wrote this about Tennessee’s playoff standing following a loss at Georgia:

In my opinion, that leaves just one scenario in which Tennessee gets left out of the playoff: TCU goes undefeated, Ole Miss goes 12-1 and wins the SEC, and Georgia goes 12-1 with a loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Championship Game.”

Well, Ole Miss lost its second game, so as long as Tennessee beats South Carolina and Vanderbilt -- two fairly easy tasks -- the Volunteers will be in the playoff, the way I see it.

8. One-loss loser of Big Ten title game

Possible teams: Michigan, Ohio State

Michigan and Ohio State are already ranked in the top three of the College Football Playoff rankings, so whoever wins the head-to-head meeting will be further cemented as a top four team.

Even a loss in the Big Ten Championship Game wouldn’t be enough to eliminate a 12-1 Michigan or Ohio State team.

9. One-loss Pac-12 champion

Possible teams: USC

Boy, did the Pac-12′s title hopes take a hit this weekend.

Seemingly out of nowhere on Saturday night, both Oregon and UCLA picked up their second losses, eliminating both from the playoff picture.

That means USC stands alone as a possible Pac-12 representative, and the road ahead won’t be easy. USC has to go to UCLA, host Notre Dame, and then win the conference title game.

If that happens, the Trojans will be right in the mix, with no guarantee.

10. One-loss Big 12 champion

Possible teams: TCU

What if USC wins out to finish as a 12-1 Pac-12 champion and TCU loses one game en route to a 12-1 finish as the Big 12 champion? This one could go either way, but I’m sticking with USC.

TCU is currently ranked a few spots ahead of USC, but in this theoretical scenario, the Horned Frogs would suffer a loss to either Baylor or Iowa State in the next two weeks while USC ends the season on a six-game winning streak.

The problem for TCU, as we talked about last week, is that if the Horned Frogs win the Big 12, every single other team in the conference is guaranteed to have four or more losses, except for one. As it stands, TCU would have to beat Kansas State in the conference title game, handing the Wildcats their fourth loss of the season. Only Oklahoma State could possibly finish 9-3.

Meanwhile, USC would have late wins over UCLA and either Oregon or Utah. Those teams have been consistently ranked higher in the CFP poll than TCU’s Big 12 foes.

11. One-loss ACC champion

Possible teams: Clemson, North Carolina

The ACC is still very much alive, but these teams are going to need some help.

With Georgia, Tennessee, and the Michigan-Ohio State winner likely taking up three of the four spots, the ACC needs multiple-loss Pac-12 and Big 12 championship winners.

That’s looking less and less likely, but it’s still possible.

I should add the caveat that I’m not entirely convinced North Carolina would get the same benefit of the doubt as Clemson. The Tar Heels beat Appalachian State, Miami, Duke, Virginia, and Wake Forest each by three points or fewer. That doesn’t bode well for a resume that won’t include a single win over a CFP top 25 team going into the ACC Championship Game.

12. SEC champion LSU

It wasn’t pretty, but LSU managed to beat Arkansas by three points over the weekend and clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

UAB and Texas A&M should be fairly easy wins to finish the regular season, so LSU can look ahead to making a huge playoff statement against Georgia. If that happens, chaos ensues.

13. One-loss loser of Big 12 title game

Possible teams: TCU

This is another scenario that would spark massive debate. If TCU is undefeated but finally loses in the Big 12 title game (to a team the Frogs have already beaten, no less), does it really deserve to be left out?

I’ll point once again to the mediocrity of the Big 12, at least record-wise. TCU would be without a conference crown and probably have fewer ranked wins than USC and Clemson, leaving it on the outside looking in.

14. Michigan or Ohio State finish 11-1

TCU’s win over Texas all but eliminated the chances of two Big Ten teams getting into the playoff.

Even if USC loses and the committee doesn’t love Clemson, it feels like TCU is going to have to lose twice in the next three games to finish behind both Michigan and Ohio State.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.